Gibson's "Birthday Babies":
The Anniversary Model Les Pauls

By Mike Slubowski

Click on images to enlarge.

Over the years, Gibson has issued a number of "anniversary model" Les Pauls. One, like the Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary Model, has been covered in more depth in another article exclusive to the Les Paul Forum. This article, in contrast, is an overview, or "Greyhound Bus tour", of various anniversary models from 1974 through 2002.

20th Anniversary Custom (1974)
According to Tony Bacon's book, it occurred to Gibson in 1974 that it was 20 years since the first Les Paul Custom had appeared (who knows why it didn't occur to them to celebrate 20 years for the Les Paul Model in 1972?), so they celebrated by issuing a Custom with a Twentieth Anniversary inlay at the 15th fret, in place of the normal blank position marker. This was Gibson's first anniversary model, and it proved to be very successful. It is clear that this guitar established a marketing trend for other anniversary models to follow.
The 20th anniversary Les Paul Custom is typical of an early 70's Norlin model. It has a pancake (3 piece) body, gold hardware, volute, witch hat knobs, ABR-1 bridge, ebony fretboard, 3-piece mahogany neck, thin binding in the cutaway, 6 digit serial number, and "Made in USA" stamp on the back of the headstock. The 20th anniversary pictured is cherry sunburst and weighs 9 lbs., 14 oz. The 20th anniversary models were made in Kalamazoo.

There are varying accounts of how many 20th anniversary model Les Paul Customs were manufactured. According to Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars, all Les Paul Customs in 1974 have Twentieth Anniversary engraved in block letters on the 15th fret inlay, but then the guide goes on to say black or white finish. Gibson shipping totals show 60 Twentieth Anniversary models produced in ebony or white in 1975, but make no reference to this model specifically in 1974, a year in which over 7,500 Les Paul Customs were manufactured. In fact, 20th anniversary model Customs have also been seen in cherry sunburst (see photo) and wine red, albeit in limited numbers. But, according to shipping records, there were also 572 Les Paul Customs made in 1974 in tobacco sunburst, and some of these has been spotted with the 20th anniversary inlay. Based on the number of 20th anniversary models documented by guitar collectors, it would seem that a very large number, perhaps the majority, of Les Paul Customs manufactured in 1974 (at least several thousand) had the 20th anniversary engraving on the 15th fret inlay.

According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul 20th Anniversary Models in excellent condition are selling for $2,000-$2,400.

25th Anniversary (1977)

Although most people associate the Les Paul 25/50 with the 25th Anniversary of the Les Paul, little is known about the 25th Anniversary model in silver pictured below. According to the Vintage Guitar Price Guide, the 25th Anniversary model was commissioned by Guitar Center of Hollywood, California. Approximately 50 of these guitars were made in 1977, most with chrome hardware, the words "25th Anniversary" engraved in the stop bar tailpiece and the words "Les Paul"carved on the pickguard in white. This particular example in the photograph may have been a prototype, because it has gold hardware and the Les Paul wording in the pickguard does not conform to others.

The 25th Anniversary has a Nashville bridge, top hat knobs with chrome or gold inserts, Schaller style "Gibson" tulip tuners, wide binding in the cutaway, three piece neck, and an 8 digit serial number. The example in the photograph is 10 lbs. 10 oz. According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul 25th Silver Anniversary Models in excellent condition are selling for $1,700-$2,200.

25/50 Anniversary (1978)

The 25/50 model was issued to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Les Paul model (a year late, since 1977 was actually the 25th year), and the 50th anniversary of Les Paul's career in the music business.

The 25/50 model is a distinctive model in the Les Paul lineage for many reasons, including the unique and intricate pearl and abalone "25/50" headstock inlay design, creative use of silver and gold hardware combinations (e.g., the tuners are gold with silver buttons), abalone side dot marker inlays, beautiful flamed maple top, five piece flamed maple neck, split block parallelogram inlays (one of only two Les Paul production models to sport these inlays), large control cavity, gold truss rod cover inscribed with "Les Paul Anniversary", brass nut, and a coil tap mini-switch (one of the few production Les Pauls with a coil tap until the Jimmy Page Les Paul was introduced).

In addition to the above unique features, the 25/50 had multi-ply binding on the front and back of the body and the front of the headstock, a volute, Nashville bridge with TP-6 fine tuning tailpiece, black speed knobs, Schaller style "Gibson" tuners, and Series VII pickups. These Series VII pickups were potted with a black, rubber-like material that fills the gold covers and makes these pickups virtually impossible to remove from their covers for repair. The Les Paul 25/50 was available in tobacco sunburst, natural, wine red, and black. Based on the resale market, it appears that tobacco sunburst was predominant, followed by natural. Wine red and black are very rare. There has been a report of a few 25/50s in white. There are photos of a few 25/50s in what appears to be a lighter honey sunburst color, but it could be a lighter tobaccoburst under bright photographic lighting. There is one 25/50 in Japan that has a flamed pickguard and pickup rings, but it is not known whether or not these are replacement parts or a special order. Despite its "limited edition" marketing image, it is ironic that some factory seconds of the 25/50 were released.

All 25/50s were made in Gibson's Kalamazoo plant. The regular 8 digit serial number in "YDDDYSSS" format was used on the 25/50 (where "YY" is the year, "DDD" is the day of the year, and "SSS" is the production sequence number, with numbers below 500 used at Kalamazoo). In addition, the 25/50 has a four digit edition number, which presumably gave it that "limited edition" marketing image. The "Made in USA" stamp is also on the back of the headstock. The three 25/50s profiled in this article weigh between 10 lbs. 5 oz. and 10 lbs. 8 oz. According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul 25/50 Anniversary Models in excellent condition are selling for $1,700-$2,200.


30th Anniversary (1982)

The 30th Anniversary Les Paul was issued with a great marketing campaign that included Les Paul himself in the ads.

The 30th Anniversary model is a goldtop with chrome hardware, thin binding in the cutaway, speed knobs, double ring Kluson-style tuners, and the inscription "30th Anniversary" at the 19th fret. The back of the guitar is mahogany, stained light to medium brown, although some 30th anniversary models had gold backs. The model in this photo has a one piece mahogany neck, which was an option; others had 3 piece mahogany necks.

The serial number format of the 30th anniversary model is unique, with a prefix letter "A", "B", or "C", followed by a four digit number. Although there has been much speculation about the significance of the serial number, or whether the different prefixes indicate a separate series, there is no known rationale/pattern to this numbering system. The 30th anniversary model pictured weighs 10 lbs. 4 oz.

According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul 30th Anniversary Models in excellent condition are selling for $1,600-$1,800.

35th Anniversary Custom (1989)

The 35th anniversary LP Custom was issued to commemorate 35 years for the Les Paul Custom model, which was introduced in 1954. This model has the words "35th Anniversary" written on the parallelogram inlay on the headstock. It is a 3 pickup model with gold hardware, small black bell knobs, Kluson style tuners, ABR-1 bridge, wide binding in the cutaway, with a vintage-style serial number in "9 XXXX" format ("9" for 1989). This guitar weighs 10 lbs.


According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul 35th Anniversary Models in excellent condition are selling for $2,200-$2,600.




40th Anniversary (1991/1992)

Given the fact that the Les Paul Standard was issued in 1952, it is a mystery why the 40th anniversary model that is photographed was issued in 1991. Perhaps it is because some original goldtops were reportly issued in late 1951?

In any event, the 40th anniversary model isn't remotely similar to its 1952 cousin. The guitar is all black (front and back), with "40th Anniversary" inlayed at the 12th fret. It has an ebony fretboard, P-100 pickups, a gold "Anniversary Limited Edition" logo on the back of the headstock (limited run of 300 were made), regular 8 digit serial number, wide binding in cutaway, gold hardware, and Nashville bridge. The guitar pictured above wins the heavyweight award at a whopping 11 lbs.!
Although the Gruhn guide indicates availability of this model from 1992-93, the subject guitar has a 1991 serial number. According to the 2003 Vintage Guitar Price Guide, Les Paul 40th Anniversary Models in excellent condition are selling for $1,450-$1,550.

Centennial Les Pauls (1994)
The year 1994 was a big one for Gibson, representing its 100th anniversary, and the company wanted to "do it big". Promotional material issued to "valued collectors" announced the Gibson Centennial Collection, and told anxious buyers that "this is an opportunity which is offered once in a lifetime so…don't wait another hundred years!"

Only 100 of each guitar model was produced with some of the most elegant enhancements offered by a guitar manufacturer to that date. Special limited edition appointments included:

· 11 pt. Diamond on the Gibson headstock logo
· 5 pts. Diamonds on 22 carat plated top hat knobs with embedded 100 year anniversary logo
· Jeweled sterling silver serial number embedded on the tailpiece
· Mother of pearl inlays including 12th fret inlay saying "100th Anniversary 1894 1994"
· Each guitar numbered in series from 1894 to 1994, signifying Gibson's 100 years.
· 22 carat gold plated anniversary Orville Gibson coin embedded on the back of the headstock
· Silk screened anniversary headstock cover
· Hand-tooled leather case, complete with outer covering
· Hand-tooled embossed leather strap with 100 year anniversary logo
· Personalized framed picture of each individual guitar for the purchaser
· Silk ribbon with 100th Anniversary logo
· Jeweled, gold signet ring with Gibson 100 Year Anniversary logo personalized for the purchaser of the guitar

There is much confusion in the collector's community over the serial number system for these guitars. The serial numbers are in "YYYY MM" format, where the first four digits are a serial number from 1894-1994, and the suffix, or second series digit (or digits) represent the month (1 through 12) issued (e.g., 1 = January, etc.). To add confusion, Gibson changed the sequence of models coming out during the year, and also did not issue all of the models originally envisioned, so this second series of numbers doesn't correspond to the month issued, and actually goes up to "14".

There were three Les Paul models issued during the year in addition to a Les Paul Special Double Cut. They were a Les Paul Classic Gold Top with P-100s, a Les Paul Standard in vintage sunburst, and a Les Paul '57 Black Beauty 3 pickup model. The serial number suffix for these three models was "4" for the Classic Gold Top, "12" for the Standard, and "13" for the Custom. There is a Nashville bridge on the Goldtop and Standard models, and an ABR-1 on the Custom.

There are limited price guidelines on the values of Centennials due to the small amount of trading going on, although the author has seen sales in the $3,500-$5,000 range. Because most of these guitars are in collections, they are usually found in mint, unplayed condition.


40th Anniversary of the 1959 Les Paul (1999)
The 1959 LP Reissue in 1999 was announced in commemoration of 40 years of this classic collector's guitar. It was reported to be "the most accurate reissue Gibson has ever made", with special attention paid to the binding, the perimeter shape, the top dish carving, the knob placement, the finish and the peghead shape. These guitars featured a thinner, more correct binding, and many other improvements.

Gibson offered the 40th Anniversary models with a black Historic case and a reissue brown case, a strap, and a Beauty of the Burst Book. Special certificates were also issued. In addition to the normal production run of these guitars in the Custom Shop, a limited run of approximately 100 '59 reissues were aged models, and the first 50 or so were painted by Tom Murphy. Also, a very small number of "killertop" '59s were made, with Gibson's newly-invented top grade of "AAAAA".

Even though there have been improvements made to the '59 reissue since 1999 to make them more "historically accurate," the 1999s are regarded as excellent guitars with very accurate sunburst paint jobs.

50th Anniversary Models (2002)

The year 2002 marked the 50th anniversary of the Les Paul model, and Gibson's Custom Shop issued two very different guitars to commemorate this event.
The first was a 1952 reissue.
Gibson and Les Paul celebrated the 50th anniversary of their historic collaboration with the Les Paul '52 Goldtop Aged, a replica of Gibson's first electric solidbody guitar. Each guitar in the limited run of 52 was "aged" to look just like a 50-year-old vintage "Goldtop" from a collector's showcase, and each carried Les Paul's personal stamp of approval in the form of an autographed pickguard.
For their second model, Gibson created an ultra-deluxe version of the legendary electric solidbody model, made with exquisite materials. Featuring figured tone woods and abalone pearl inlays, the 50th Anniversary Les Paul was produced in a limited run of 50 instruments. The 50th Anniversary Les Paul has a one-piece figured maple back and a two-piece curly koa top. The three-piece neck has a strip of curly koa running between two pieces of curly maple.

The fingerboard is Madagascar ebony and inlaid with abalone clouds and abalone side markers. The top, back and fingerboard are bordered with multi-ply binding. The finish is nitrocellulose lacquer in an antique natural shade that brings out the rich tone of the koa and maple. All the hardware is gold-plated, including the brass backplates and truss rod cover. The limited-edition 50th Anniversary case came with an embroidered case cover.

All the anniversary model Les Pauls described in this article add to the unique history of
Gibson guitars, and will always be of interest to players and collectors alike


NOTE: As a member of the Les Paul Forum, I am always interested in learning new things about the details and history of Gibson Guitars. Thus, I appreciate any additional information or questions that readers may have about the history of the Les Paul Anniversary Guitars or any other Gibson model.
Please contact me at

Credit is given to the Gibson Les Paul Book, by Tony Bacon and Paul Day, for some of the excerpts in this article, along with Gruhn's Guide to Vintage Guitars, The Vintage Guitar Price Guide, and Gibson's own promotional materials.

Mike Slubowski is a Gibson enthusiast, collector, player, and author, with a special passion for Les Pauls.

This article and photos are property of Mike Slubowski.
No part of this article may be reproduced without the expressed written permission of the author.

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